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An Eclectic Digest of Science, Art and Literature



Modified: 2017-04-30T13:08:33Z

 



LOVE IN THE TIME OF NUMBNESS; OR, DOCTOR CHEKHOV, WRITER

2017-04-30T13:08:33Z

Siddhartha Mukherjee in The New Yorker: When my mother’s mother began to die of a mysterious, undiagnosable neurological illness, the first thing she lost was her sense of taste. For most families, perhaps, this would be a rather inconsequential loss,...Siddhartha Mukherjee in The New Yorker: When my mother’s mother began to die of a mysterious, undiagnosable neurological illness, the first thing she lost was her sense of taste. For most families, perhaps, this would be a rather inconsequential loss, but this had severe repercussions for us. As the matriarch of our heaving, multi-generational family, she had always helmed the kitchen with an efficient, if somewhat despotic, hand. Because all the food in that household was cooked by her—years earlier, an attempted takeover by one of the uncle’s wives had been swiftly and tyrannically rebuffed—my grandmother was, in fact, the ultimate arbiter of taste. For decades, this had been a relatively stable and blissful arrangement: she was an acutely talented cook. But as her taste buds numbed, week by week, the food turned from mild to well-seasoned to intolerably spicy. It was, perhaps, a kind of neural compensation for her—the way people with early hearing loss often begin to speak more loudly—but the fish curry now went off on the palate like a thermonuclear bomb. The lentils exfoliated the tongue. The fried spinach was an incinerating terror; the okra, an endurance sport. When even the white rice, the final refuge of the Asian tongue, began to arrive at the table with halved Thai bird peppers on top, the seeds squinting above it, we squirmed in terror. But we steeled ourselves and kept eating: numbness begetting numbness. I want to talk to you today about desensitization. In my other life, I am an oncologist. Numbness, you might say, is my occupational hazard. Over the past month or so, I have watched twelve of my patients die from or relapse with cancer. Yesterday, I heard that a friend who ran my favorite restaurant, the place I went for daily refuge while I was writing my last book, passed away from tongue cancer that had colonized her brain and bones. When interviewers ask me how I carry on carrying on, I speak about the startling successes with some of my patients, about hope and the future. But I do not—I cannot—tell them that a certain kind of numbness must be a part of it. I come home from the bone-marrow-transplant wards on a January morning and play with my dog, rearrange the furniture, and practice polynomial factorization with my daughter. I celebrate a recent laboratory paper with a glass of champagne. I return to the wards the next morning and look down a microscope to find a marrow choked up with leukemia cells after a heroic attempt at salvage chemotherapy. And this cycle repeats. You might say that I have an advanced degree in desensitization. But, of course, I am not here to describe the numbness that accompanies medical practice. There is a different form of desensitization that surrounds us today. When I was asked to give this talk to a roomful of aspiring writers, I had to confront the elephant-in-the-room question: How shall we continue to write in these numbing times? More here. [...]



Journey to the House of Stone

2017-04-30T12:37:11Z

Fawzia Afzal Khan in The Friday Times: From the Hamra section of Beirut, one of those must-see areas for tourists, full of cafes and honking cars and far less appealing to me than the beautiful Corniche, after a lunch of...Fawzia Afzal Khan in The Friday Times: From the Hamra section of Beirut, one of those must-see areas for tourists, full of cafes and honking cars and far less appealing to me than the beautiful Corniche, after a lunch of grape leaves, tabouleh, spicy potatoes (batataharra) – a favorite of my guide Karim – we set out in his black Toyota Corolla 2016 for Marjayoun. I’m again on one of my obsessive literary journeys, this time to visit the House of Stone built by Anthony Shadid on his ancestral land in the south of Lebanon, an area which used to be largely Christian, but has since become a Shiite stronghold of the Hezbollah party. Shadid, a Lebanese American of Christian background, was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times who won the Pulitzer prize twice for international reporting, having written empathetically about the effects of the Iraqi war on its people, and was attempting to leave Syria in 2012 while covering the contemporary crisis, when he died tragically, supposedly of an asthma attack. Ever since I read his beautiful, lyrical, haunting memoir about his quest to find his roots in the country his great grandfather migrated to the USA from, I became obsessed with wanting to see this symbol of one man’s determination to recover his past, and the past of his ancestral homeland, in a present riven by war. His memoir intertwines his intimate journey with the challenge of rebuilding his great grandfather’s abandoned home, which in 2006 was hit and partially destroyed by a half-exploded Israeli rocket. The book becomes a chronicle of the chaotic history of one of the oldest inhabited regions of the world which, because of its geographic location has seen war throughout its centuries old history, and part of Shadid’s goal in the book is an attempt to better understand the rise and fall of the Ottoman empire and the ensuing consequences which have embroiled Lebanon and the region of the Levant in an imperial game involving Britain, France, the US and their watchdog in the region Israel, ever since the beginning of the last century and lasting into our present time. Even as I pen this, US warplanes under President Trump’s directives, have started a bombing campaign in neighbouring Syria, which was once part of Greater Lebanon – or was Lebanon part of Greater Syria? Borders remain porous, reminders of the careless carving up of once autonomous regions into spurious nation states modeled on those of the Western powers who became imperial masters after they defeated the Ottomans who had ruled the Levantine region for centuries. More here. [...]



allan holdsworth (1946 - 2017)

2017-04-30T10:25:00Z

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Cuba Gooding Sr. (1944 - 2017)

2017-04-30T10:21:00Z

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robert pirsig (1928 - 2017)

2017-04-30T10:20:00Z

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HOW A PROFESSIONAL CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER DISCOVERED THE LIES AND DECIDED TO FIGHT FOR SCIENCE

2017-04-29T17:22:41Z

Sharon Lerner in The Intercept: The hardest part of reversing the warming of the planet may be convincing climate change skeptics of the need to do so. Although scientists who study the issue overwhelming agree that the earth is undergoing...Sharon Lerner in The Intercept: The hardest part of reversing the warming of the planet may be convincing climate change skeptics of the need to do so. Although scientists who study the issue overwhelming agree that the earth is undergoing rapid and profound climate changes due to the burning of fossil fuels, a minority of the public remains stubbornly resistant to that fact. With temperatures rising and ice caps melting — and that small minority in control of both Congress and the White House — there seems no project more urgent than persuading climate deniers to reconsider their views. So we reached out to Jerry Taylor, whose job as president of the Niskanen Center involves turning climate skeptics into climate activists. It might seem like an impossible transition, except that Taylor, who used to be staff director for the energy and environment task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and vice president of the Cato Institute, made it himself. Sharon Lerner: What did you think when you first encountered the concept of climate change back in the 1990s? Jerry Taylor: From 1991 through 2000, I was a pretty good warrior on that front. I was absolutely convinced of the case for skepticism with regard to climate science and of the excessive costs of doing much about it even if it were a problem. I used to write skeptic talking points for a living. SL: What was your turning point? JT: It started in the early 2000s. I was one of the climate skeptics who do battle on TV and I was doing a show with Joe Romm. On air, I said that, back in 1988, when climate scientist James Hansen testified in front of the Senate, he predicted we’d see a tremendous amount of warming. I argued it’d been more than a decade and we could now see by looking at the temperature record that he wasn’t accurate. After we got done with the program and were back in green room, getting the makeup taken off, Joe said to me, “Did you even read that testimony you’ve just talked about?” And when I told him it had been a while, he said “I’m daring you to go back and double check this.” He told me that some of Hansen’s projections were spot on. So I went back to my office and I re-read Hanson’s testimony. And Joe was correct. So I then I talked to the climate skeptics who had made this argument to me, and it turns out they had done so with full knowledge they were being misleading. SL: So that was it? You changed your mind? JT: It was more gradual. More here. [...]



What characteristics are men most attracted to in women and why?

2017-04-29T17:16:43Z

Adrian Furnham in Psychology Today: There is an extensive literature in many disciplines on the topic of mate preferences and selection (Candolin, 2003; Prokosch, Coss, Scheib & Blozis, 2009; Shackelford, Schmitt & Buss, 2005; Schwarz & Hassenbrauck, 2012). Much of...

Adrian Furnham in Psychology Today:

(image) There is an extensive literature in many disciplines on the topic of mate preferences and selection  (Candolin, 2003; Prokosch, Coss, Scheib & Blozis, 2009; Shackelford, Schmitt & Buss, 2005; Schwarz & Hassenbrauck, 2012).

Much of the recent literature has been driven by debates on the power of the Body Mass Index (BMI) over Waist-to-Hip (WHR) ratios to attempt to determine the universality of male mate preferences (Dixson, Sagata, Linklater & Dixson, 2010). The debate has been won by the BMI school who argue from the data that it is the best and first-past-the-post choice factor when men look at women.

But there are a long list of other factors that play a part. They have one thing in common which is they are indicators of health and youth. Men like long shiny hair; they like a smooth skin. And they are very interested in symmetry.

More here.

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The Pakistani university has become a space of institutionalised apathy

2017-04-29T17:05:57Z

Ammar Rashid in Dawn: Much has been said about what the lynching of Mashal Khan revealed about Pakistani society – from the brutal consequences of mob hysteria to the degree to which fanaticism has seeped into the social fabric. That...

Ammar Rashid in Dawn:

(image) Much has been said about what the lynching of Mashal Khan revealed about Pakistani society – from the brutal consequences of mob hysteria to the degree to which fanaticism has seeped into the social fabric.

That the tragedy took place in a university, however, spoke to another process that has helped bring the country to its current impasse – the political and ideological brutalisation of its students by the state.

The on-campus lynching of a student by a mob of his peers solely on the basis of his progressive ideas was chilling to all who witnessed it; yet it was also simply the logical culmination of a decades-old state project to neutralise the potential of student politics for resistance and dissent in Pakistan.

This project has largely been successful. Today, with the exception of a few campuses, the Pakistani university is not a space of freedom for learning, ideological debate or critical thinking, but one of apathy, ideological conformity, and moral conservatism, often enforced through a nexus between the state, university administrations and unelected right-wing student groups.

More here.

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Marko Ahtisaari on AI music party tricks, and how music could take the place of drugs

2017-04-29T16:55:32Z

Marko Ahtisaari helped found 3 Quarks Daily almost 13 years ago, and is responsible for my early introduction to blogging. Here, he is interviewed by another friend, Azeem Azhar. It's a fascinating discussion.

Marko Ahtisaari helped found 3 Quarks Daily almost 13 years ago, and is responsible for my early introduction to blogging. Here, he is interviewed by another friend, Azeem Azhar. It's a fascinating discussion.

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How to make the world a better place

2017-04-29T13:29:27Z

From The Guardian: Terry Eagleton As a 24-year-old Cambridge academic, I was lucky enough to be involved in the writing of the May Day Manifesto of 1967. It was a genuinely collaborative project among a range of leftwing intellectuals of...From The Guardian: Terry Eagleton As a 24-year-old Cambridge academic, I was lucky enough to be involved in the writing of the May Day Manifesto of 1967. It was a genuinely collaborative project among a range of leftwing intellectuals of the day, a bunch of whom descended on Raymond Williams’s cottage outside Cambridge to cobble together a powerful indictment of Harold Wilson’s Labour government. EP Thompson scribbled away in one corner of the living room, Stuart Hall discussed neocolonialism in another, while Ralph Miliband phoned in from the LSE. The general air was one of tweeds and pipe smoke. There were no women, a fact that even the most dedicated militant of the day would not have found in the least strange. It would be hard to muster such an impressive bunch of socialist minds today. The intellectual left is thinner on the ground than it was. We have lost almost all the leading figures of that historical moment – though lost them to death rather than to apathy or apostasy. The political climate of the time offered more opportunities for the left as well. One year after the manifesto was published, student revolt swept across Europe, while the United States was plunged into the twin crises of civil rights and the Vietnam war. Today across the Atlantic, the lunatics have taken over the asylum. Tariq Ali ...The mantra of privatisation as the only possible solution to the crisis is still invoked regularly by elite opinion makers almost everywhere. That this dogmatic obsession is wrecking living conditions seems to have little impact on our rulers. Health services are under siege by private companies with politicians on their payrolls. A rational solution exists but is blocked by the dictatorship of capital. To take one example: the NHS in Britain. It’s short-sighted to think that this can only be funded by more taxes. The postwar politicians who created the NHS missed out on an important corollary: a state-owned pharmaceutical industry that would stop the grotesque profits of big pharma from crippling a nationalised health service. It has worked well in some parts of the south. Why doesn’t the north follow suit? It would help to drastically reduce the costs of public medicine. For this to happen the cancer of privatisation needs to be rooted out. More here. [...]



Saturday Poem

2017-04-29T13:25:30Z

Crazy Horse Speaks 1. I discovered the evidence in a vault of the Mormon Church 3,000 skeletons of my cousins in a silence so great I built four walls around it and gave it a name. I called it Custer...Crazy Horse Speaks 1. I discovered the evidence in a vault of the Mormon Church 3,000 skeletons of my cousins in a silence so great I built four walls around it and gave it a name. I called it Custer and he came to me again in a dream. He forgave all my sins. 2. Little Big Horn. Little Big Horn does not belong to me. I was there my horse exploded beneath me. I searched for Long Hair the man you call Custer the man I call My Father. But it wasn't me who killed him it was _____________ who poked holes in Custer's ears and left the body for proof. I dream of him and search doorways and alleys for his grave. General George Armstrong Custer my heart is beating survive  survive survive. 3. I wear the color of my skin like a brown paper bag wrapped around a bottle. Sleeping between the pages of dictionaries your language cuts tears holes in my tongue until I do not have strength to use the word "Love". What could it mean in this city where everyone is Afraid-of-Horses? 4. There are places I cannot leave. Rooms without doors or windows the eternal ribcage. I sat across the fire from Sitting Bull shared smoke and eyes. We both saw the same thing our future tight and small an 8 x 10 dream called the reservation. We had no alternatives but to fight again and again live our lives on horseback. After the Civil War the number of Indian warriors in the West doubled tripled the number of soldiers but Indians never have shared the exact skin never the same home. 5. I am the mirror practicing masks and definitions. I have always wanted to be anonymous instead of the crazy skin who rode his horse backward and laid down alone. It was never easy to be frightened by the sound of a color. I can still hear white it is the sound of glass shattering. 6. I hear the verdict in the museum in New York where five Eskimo were flown in to be a living exhibit. Three died within days lacking natural immunity their hearts miles and miles of thin ice. Three dead Eskimo were stuffed and mounted hunched over a fishing hole next to the two living who held their thin hands close to their chests mortal and sinless. 7. Whenever it all begins again I will be waiting. by Sherman Alexie from Old Shirts & New Skins. [...]



'COCKROACHES' BY SCHOLASTIQUE MUKASONGA

2017-04-29T10:16:00Z

Tara Cheesman-Olmsted at The Quarterly Conversation: The opening pages of Cockroaches, Mukasonga’s memoir about the Rwandan genocide and the decades surrounding it, introduces a distinctive narrative style and framework onto the story that follows. Mukasonga creates an intimate space where...Tara Cheesman-Olmsted at The Quarterly Conversation: The opening pages of Cockroaches, Mukasonga’s memoir about the Rwandan genocide and the decades surrounding it, introduces a distinctive narrative style and framework onto the story that follows. Mukasonga creates an intimate space where she can speak. She seats us across the table and, in hushed tones (her children sleeping in the next room), shares her memories. It begins in the late 1950s, after the Rwandan Revolution. Hutus are in power. Mukasonga and her Tutsi relatives are forcefully relocated to Nyamata, in eastern Rwanda. Then they are moved to Gitwe, a village built by the government specifically to put displaced Tutsis. They will remain there for a time, but eventually will find a more permanent home in Gitagata. Gitagata is where her family will be killed. Mukasonga scrutinizes the events leading up to and including the 1994 Rwandan genocide subjectively, focusing on memories of her family and childhood. She uses individual experience as a way to personalize what most of us know only from the newspaper. Some of her memories are good—time spent with her mother, ditching school to gather fruit with friends, and the making of banana wine. Others are painful—being called Inyenzi, cockroach; the threat of rape; hiding in the bush from men with machetes and spiked clubs. She speaks of the persistent state of fear, of looming danger, that she and her loved ones endured. She describes “noises, shouts, a hum like a swarm of bees, a growl filling the air.” This is the sound of the “pogroms.” Horrors appear on these pages in the guise of normality. more here. [...]



A new book shows the darker side of Martin Luther

2017-04-29T10:11:00Z

Michael Dirda at the Washington Post: The 19th-century historian Leopold von Ranke famously urged reconstructing the past “wie es eigentlich gewesen,” to show how it really was. Insofar as she can, Roper adapts this motto to biography: She aims to...Michael Dirda at the Washington Post: The 19th-century historian Leopold von Ranke famously urged reconstructing the past “wie es eigentlich gewesen,” to show how it really was. Insofar as she can, Roper adapts this motto to biography: She aims to track Luther’s “inner development,” to get inside his head: “I want to know how a sixteenth-century individual perceived the world around him, and why he viewed it in this way. I want to explore his inner landscapes so as to better understand his ideas about flesh and spirit.” She adds that “it was Luther’s vivid friendships and enmities that convinced me that he had to be understood through his relationships, and not as the lone hero of the Reformation myth.” As a result, her book situates this revolutionary thinker and his thought in the sociological, political and religious crosscurrents of contemporary Germany. Born in 1483, Luther grew up in the mining town of Mansfeld, where his father was part of what we’d now call upper management. When young Martin toddled off to the university at Erfurt, he was supposed to come home a lawyer. But, following a terrifying epiphany during a thunderstorm, he instead resolved to become an Augustinian monk, despite paternal displeasure. Like psychologist Erik Erikson before her, Roper views Luther’s life in terms of authority figures that he initially revered, then outgrew and rejected. more here. [...]



The Man to Blame for Our Culture of Fame

2017-04-29T10:10:00Z

Jon Meacham at the New York Times: Virtually forgotten in our own time, Winchell is an undeniable architect of the way we live now — which makes Gabler’s biography essential reading. “A mention in his column or on his broadcast...Jon Meacham at the New York Times: Virtually forgotten in our own time, Winchell is an undeniable architect of the way we live now — which makes Gabler’s biography essential reading. “A mention in his column or on his broadcast meant one was among the exalted,” Gabler wrote. “It meant that one’s name was part of the general fund of knowledge. It meant that one’s exploits, even if they were only the exploits of dining, rated acknowledgment. It meant that one’s life was validated.” Politically, Winchell, once an enthusiastic booster of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, claimed to have introduced the New York lawyer (and later Donald Trump mentor) Roy Cohn to Senator Joseph McCarthy and the broadcaster’s program became a platform for the Red-baiting of the 1950s. Culturally, Winchell helped create the ambient world of celebrity that permanently blurred the lines between politics, policy, sports and entertainment. “This culture,” according to Gabler, “would bind an increasingly diverse, mobile and atomized nation until it became, in many respects, America’s dominant ethos, celebrity consciousness our new common denominator.” To understand the narcissism of the first decades of the 21st century, it may help to realize that it is neither a sudden nor an entirely new phenomenon. “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about,” Oscar Wilde’s Lord Henry remarked in 1890’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “and that is not being talked about.” The world Wilde anticipated and Winchell crystallized can be explained by a few key texts that illuminate how we find ourselves with a president of the United States who used to call up New York tabloid writers (and would very likely have called Winchell, had Winchell still been around) posing as Trump spokesman “John Miller” or “John Barron” to talk about … himself. more here. [...]



The Paradox of the Belief in a Just World

2017-04-28T19:37:30Z

In this extract from The Lottery of Birth: On Inherited Social Inequalities, Namit Arora talks about parsing through the fiction that he is the sole author of his success and about the wilful blindness among Indians about their inherited privileges....In this extract from The Lottery of Birth: On Inherited Social Inequalities, Namit Arora talks about parsing through the fiction that he is the sole author of his success and about the wilful blindness among Indians about their inherited privileges. Namit Arora in The Wire: A leading ideological fiction of our age is that worldly success comes to those who deserve it. Per this fiction, the smarter, more talented and disciplined men and women, with some unfortunate exceptions, come out ahead of the rest and morally deserve their material rewards in life. The flip side of this belief is of course that, with some unfortunate exceptions, those who find themselves at the bottom also morally deserve their lot for being – the conclusion is inescapable – neither smart nor talented nor disciplined enough. Such a view partly derives from what social psychologists call ‘belief in a just world’ (usually amplified by ideology, more on that in the extended Introduction in the book). This widely held belief presumes that humans live under an overarching moral order – whether based on divine providence, karma, destiny, social cause-effect or another principle – which tends to produce fair and predictable consequences for our actions. It’s a belief in just deserts that, to varying degrees, all of us subscribe to. It’s evident in phrases like ‘chickens coming home to roost’ or ‘what goes around, comes around’. This deep-seated belief may well be essential for human self-preservation. It enables us to make plans, engage in practical goal-oriented behaviour and take pride in the outcomes of our efforts. Many aspects of our world even help validate this belief. Indeed, it seems like a natural instinct among people in all societies. Yet this belief also clashes with the daily evidence of a capricious natural and social world that randomly and unjustly shapes individuals’ outcomes in life. A strong belief in a just world has a dark side. When something threatens the comforting cocoon of this belief, it can lead us to either deny the evidence, or to explain it away using tactics like victim blaming or discounting others’ hardships – especially in the face of systemic injustices and other situations that we can do little about. This often arises from our need to avoid the pangs of guilt we might feel for our good fortune, or to help justify our apathy, or perhaps to get over the emotional discomfort of empathising with the victim. More here. [...]



Scientists Can Now Pull the DNA of Ancient Humans Out of Cave Dirt

2017-04-28T19:23:20Z

Ed Yong in The Atlantic: Around 45,000 years ago, in a Belgian cave, a Neanderthal died. As its body decayed, its cells split apart, spilling their contents onto the cave floor. Those remnants included the Neanderthal’s DNA, some of which...Ed Yong in The Atlantic: Around 45,000 years ago, in a Belgian cave, a Neanderthal died. As its body decayed, its cells split apart, spilling their contents onto the cave floor. Those remnants included the Neanderthal’s DNA, some of which stuck to minerals in the sediment. There, leashed to the very rock, the DNA persisted, long after its owner’s body had disappeared and its bones had been carted off by scavengers. And in 2015, a group of scientists scooped it up. Viviane Slon from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and her colleagues have now managed to extract and sequence the DNA of ancient animals from sediment that’s up to 240,000 years old. By doing so, they can infer the presence of Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other extinct hominids without ever having to find their bones. “We were surprised by how well it works,” says Slon. “The success rates were amazing.” “I absolutely loved this,” says Jennifer Raff, who studies ancient DNA at the University of Kansas, and who was not involved in the study. “Although people have been working on recovering ancient DNA from sediments for a few years now, this is unprecedented in scope and success. My notes on the paper are full of exclamation marks. Woolly rhinoceros! Woolly mammoth! Cave bear! Neanderthal and Denisovans!” Animals have a vast genetic aura that extends beyond their physical bodies into the world around them. Their DNA falls to the ground in balls of dung, zips through the air in blood-sucking insects, and leaches into the soil during decomposition. Scientists who study living animals have used this environmental DNA (eDNA) to identify everything from elephants and earthworms. They can conduct a census of the natural world without needing to spot any actual animals—a boon when working with rare or hard-to-spot species in inaccessible habitats. More here. [...]



Men are less moral after exposure to images of sexy women, research finds

2017-04-28T19:17:45Z

Robert Burriss in Psychology Today: The femme fatale is a stock character of classic film noir and hard-boiled detective stories: the seductive, fast-talking dame who lures a man into a trap of his own making. By the end of the...Robert Burriss in Psychology Today: The femme fatale is a stock character of classic film noir and hard-boiled detective stories: the seductive, fast-talking dame who lures a man into a trap of his own making. By the end of the tale, the man usually finds himself guilty of some hitherto undreamed-of crime, and wondering how he was ever convinced to err from the path of moral rectitude. Of course, the audience is never in any doubt as to what transpired. The poor sap had sex on the brain. Confronted with the femme fatale, our hero never stood a chance. This is all well and good as far as fiction goes, but does the femme fatale hold as much sway in the real world? Can a good guy be turned bad by a sexy dame? This is a question that occurred to Wen-Bin Chiou, a psychologist at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan. To find out, Chiou brought 74 heterosexual men to the laboratory. The volunteers were first shown photographs of women, which they had to rate for sex appeal. Half of the volunteers, selected at random, saw women who had previously been rated as sexy; the other half of the volunteers saw women who rated low for sexiness. Afterwards, the men took part in what they were led to believe was an unrelated task. More here. [...]



Rise of the sex robots

2017-04-28T18:59:00Z

Advances in computer science and engineering have lifted animatronic lovers from the realms of science fiction to reality; the first models are due to go on sale by the end of the year. Jenny Kleeman meets the men who are...

Advances in computer science and engineering have lifted animatronic lovers from the realms of science fiction to reality; the first models are due to go on sale by the end of the year. Jenny Kleeman meets the men who are making the sex robots, the customers who want to buy them – and the critics who say they are dangerous. [From The Guardian.]

Video length: 16:25

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Life into Art

2017-04-28T13:15:15Z

James Salter in The Paris Review: In Bertolt Brecht’s diaries he writes about such things as the essence of art, which he describes as “­simplicity, grandeur, and sensitivity,” and its form, coolness. ...Making the shape and rhythm of sentences intensely...James Salter in The Paris Review: In Bertolt Brecht’s diaries he writes about such things as the essence of art, which he describes as “­simplicity, grandeur, and sensitivity,” and its form, coolness. ...Making the shape and rhythm of sentences intensely felt was part of the teaching method at the writing school that James Jones and a woman named Lowney Handy established in Illinois in the years after the war. Jones was in the long process of writing his novel From Here to Eternity, and Lowney Handy was his muse. Students at the school sat for several hours every day copying out by hand passages written by Hemingway, Faulkner, and Thomas Wolfe to imbibe their strength and quality. It was the mimetic method, perhaps not as ridiculous as it sounds. I would say that teaching writing is more like teaching dancing. If someone has a sense of rhythm, you might teach them something. There’s a great longing in people to be able to write, and the teaching of it, fiction and ­poetry, has become widespread in colleges and universities and outside of them as well. The teachers are often well-known and eagerly sought. Some are virtual gurus with doctrines and followers. In various cities there are private classes with selected students. You hear of a dramatic figure striking in appearance wearing boots and jodhpurs, perhaps with long white hair like a prophet, and bearing a kind of literary ichor, the fluid in the veins of the gods. He has a limitless number of great—known and lesser-known—books and ­authors at his fingertips, just as a musician knows a thousand pieces. He speaks only the truth, the core truth about everything and the truth about you, as a writer and as a person, which of necessity is likely to be hard. The class sessions are long, lasting for hours, and cannot be ­interrupted. Questions are not permitted. In this intensely charged atmosphere, the students read their stories aloud, and he stops them when they have made enough mistakes. For some, that is after a few sentences. Others are allowed to go to the end. The importance of the first sentence, he insists, can’t be overemphasized. It leads the way into the story. It sets its tone and also dictates the sentence that follows. Never begin a sentence with an adverb—it only tells what the sentence itself should reveal. More here. [...]



Can a former terrorist forge peace in the Basque Country?

2017-04-28T12:21:04Z

Zach Campbell at Harper's Magazine: Some say that Arnaldo Otegi is an assassin. Others call him a peacemaker. Given his history, he might be a little of both. Otegi used to be a member of E.T.A., the armed militant group... Zach Campbell at Harper's Magazine: Some say that Arnaldo Otegi is an assassin. Others call him a peacemaker. Given his history, he might be a little of both. Otegi used to be a member of E.T.A., the armed militant group that fought in Spain for fifty years for an independent Basque state, first against the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in the 1960s and ’70s and later against the country’s democratically elected government. Otegi has gone to jail on terrorism charges three times, and is now the leader of the second strongest electoral force in the Basque Country. His actions led to E.T.A. issuing a ceasefire seven years ago, but the group still hasn’t disbanded. In the Basque Country, violence is often justified behind closed doors. Since its inception in 1959, E.T.A. has killed over 800 people and, for decades, kidnapped and extorted to finance their activities. In response, Spain’s civilian and military police, and paramilitary groups financed by the Spanish government, killed hundreds and tortured thousands, even after the country’s transition to democracy. At different times in history, both sides have had enormous popular support in the Basque Country, and it has divided the region as much socially as it has politically. Here in many workplaces, schools, social circles, and even families, people found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. Now after fifty years of conflict, Otegi says he knows how to end the war. more here. [...]



The Baghdad Road

2017-04-28T12:11:38Z

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad at The London Review of Books: On the morning of 5 March a group of soldiers belonging to the Iraqi Special Operations Forces left the ruined village that had been their base for the past three weeks and... Ghaith Abdul-Ahad at The London Review of Books: On the morning of 5 March a group of soldiers belonging to the Iraqi Special Operations Forces left the ruined village that had been their base for the past three weeks and drove north towards Mosul. Their target was the Baghdad Circle, a bleak intersection on the main highway into town, adorned since 2014 with a black and white billboard showing the black flag of Islamic State, with the seal of the prophet and beneath it the words ‘The Islamic State, Wilayat al-Mosul’. Since operations to recapture the western side of Mosul began in mid-February, the Iraqi soldiers had twice attacked the Circle and twice they had been pushed back. ‘They have formidable fortifications,’ an officer told me. IS had built a berm – a raised earthwork bank – with a trench behind it, and then another berm, all laid with IEDs. ‘In a whole day of fighting,’ the officer said, ‘we advanced no more than 150 metres.’ He pinched and zoomed a satellite map on his tablet. The Circle is the gateway to western Mosul, the oldest part of the city. The eastern part, on the other side of the Tigris, had been retaken by the end of January. Western Mosul, with its dense neighbourhoods and narrow streets, was a bigger challenge. As long as IS held the Circle, the officer explained, the highway to Baghdad could not be opened to traffic. Refugees and troops were forced to take a circuitous route through the hills to avoid snipers and rocket launchers. For the third attack, he said, a small team of special forces would cross the highway under cover of a massive barrage of fire, outflank the Circle and try to breach the fortifications from behind. Once a bridgehead was established, the rest of the troops would follow. more here. [...]



The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel

2017-04-28T12:08:46Z

Holly B. Shakya and Nicholas A. Christakas at Harvard Business Review: The average Facebook user spends almost an hour on the site every day, according to data provided by the company last year. A Deloitte survey found that for many...Holly B. Shakya and Nicholas A. Christakas at Harvard Business Review: The average Facebook user spends almost an hour on the site every day, according to data provided by the company last year. A Deloitte survey found that for many smartphone users, checking social media apps are the first thing they do in the morning – often before even getting out of bed. Of course, social interaction is a healthy and necessary part of human existence. Thousands of studies have concluded that most human beings thrive when they have strong, positive relationships with other human beings. The challenge is that most of the work on social interaction has been conducted using “real world,” face-to-face social networks, in contrast to the types of online relationships that are increasingly common. So, while we know that old-fashioned social interaction is healthy, what about social interaction that is completely mediated through an electronic screen? When you wake up in the morning and tap on that little blue icon, what impact does it have on you? Prior research has shown that the use of social media may detract from face-to-face relationships, reduce investment in meaningful activities, increasesedentary behavior by encouraging more screen time, lead to internet addiction, and erode self-esteem through unfavorable social comparison. Self-comparison can be a strong influence on human behavior, and because peopletend to display the most positive aspects of their lives on social media, it is possible for an individual to believe that their own life compares negatively to what they see presented by others. more here. [...]



Why Doesn’t Ancient Fiction Talk About Feelings?

2017-04-28T11:42:25Z

Julie Sedivy in Nautilus: Reading medieval literature, it’s hard not to be impressed with how much the characters get done—as when we read about King Harold doing battle in one of the Sagas of the Icelanders, written in about 1230....Julie Sedivy in Nautilus: Reading medieval literature, it’s hard not to be impressed with how much the characters get done—as when we read about King Harold doing battle in one of the Sagas of the Icelanders, written in about 1230. The first sentence bristles with purposeful action: “King Harold proclaimed a general levy, and gathered a fleet, summoning his forces far and wide through the land.” By the end of the third paragraph, the king has launched his fleet against a rebel army, fought numerous battles involving “much slaughter in either host,” bound up the wounds of his men, dispensed rewards to the loyal, and “was supreme over all Norway.” What the saga doesn’t tell us is how Harold felt about any of this, whether his drive to conquer was fueled by a tyrannical father’s barely concealed contempt, or whether his legacy ultimately surpassed or fell short of his deepest hopes. Jump ahead about 770 years in time, to the fiction of David Foster Wallace. In his short story “Forever Overhead,” the 13-year-old protagonist takes 12 pages to walk across the deck of a public swimming pool, wait in line at the high diving board, climb the ladder, and prepare to jump. But over these 12 pages, we are taken into the burgeoning, buzzing mind of a boy just erupting into puberty—our attention is riveted to his newly focused attention on female bodies in swimsuits, we register his awareness that others are watching him as he hesitates on the diving board, we follow his undulating thoughts about whether it’s best to do something scary without thinking about it or whether it’s foolishly dangerous not to think about it. These examples illustrate Western literature’s gradual progression from narratives that relate actions and events to stories that portray minds in all their meandering, many-layered, self-contradictory complexities. I’d often wondered, when reading older texts: Weren’t people back then interested in what characters thought and felt? More here. [...]



Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria

2017-04-27T22:34:01Z

Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them. James Somers in The Atlantic: You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever...Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them. James Somers in The Atlantic: You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one. At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages. It was to be the realization of a long-held dream. “The universal library has been talked about for millennia,” Richard Ovenden, the head of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, has said. “It was possible to think in the Renaissance that you might be able to amass the whole of published knowledge in a single room or a single institution.” In the spring of 2011, it seemed we’d amassed it in a terminal small enough to fit on a desk. More here. [...]



Is Quantum Theory About Reality or What We Know?

2017-04-27T22:25:08Z

James Owen Weatherall in Nautilus: Physicists know how to use quantum theory—your phone and computer give plenty of evidence of that. But knowing how to use it is a far cry from fully understanding the world the theory describes—or even...James Owen Weatherall in Nautilus: Physicists know how to use quantum theory—your phone and computer give plenty of evidence of that. But knowing how to use it is a far cry from fully understanding the world the theory describes—or even what the various mathematical devices scientists use in the theory are supposed to mean. One such mathematical object, whose status physicists have long debated, is known as the quantum state. One of the most striking features of quantum theory is that its predictions are, under virtually all circumstances, probabilistic. If you set up an experiment in a laboratory, and then you use quantum theory to predict the outcomes of various measurements you might perform, the best the theory can offer is probabilities—say, a 50 percent chance that you’ll get one outcome, and a 50 percent chance that you’ll get a different one. The role the quantum state plays in the theory is to determine, or at least encode, these probabilities. If you know the quantum state, then you can compute the probability of getting any possible outcome to any possible experiment. But does the quantum state ultimately represent some objective aspect of reality, or is it a way of characterizing something about us, namely, something about what some person knows about reality? This question stretches back to the earliest history of quantum theory, but has recently become an active topic again, inspiring a slew of new theoretical results and even some experimental tests. More here. [...]